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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

A Glow in the Dark: Starting a Campfire

It's hard to beat a campfire after a long day on the trail. Here's how to enjoy the moment even when conditions are against you.

by: Tim Hauserman

(Broudy/Donohue Photography)
Photo by Campfire Starting Skills
(Broudy/Donohue Photography)

Wind and rain
When it's wet, locate dry wood under logs or leaves, gather dead snags suspended in trees, or tear open stumps for flammable pitchwood. In windy conditions, build a wind break with rocks and pitch your tent out of the path of blowing embers.

No fire ring
If there's no established site and a fire is necessary, prevent ground scars with a fire mound: Pile six inches of dirt atop a ground cloth; disperse soil afterward.

Burn restrictions
When fires aren't allowed or prudent, opt for the Black Diamond Apollo lantern, with a three-watt LED that lasts for 60 hours on 4 AAs ($50, bdel.com). For a more natural glow, the UCO Candelier burns three candles (rated to last 9 hours) to create enough light for an evening of Euchre ($30, campmor.com).

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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

WetDog
Sep 10, 2008

Here are a few tips I use up in the Cascades; some are repeats of others:
• Hand sanitizer works great to keep the flame going as does Vaseline + Cotton. Both of which live in my first aid kit with other fire starters and flint.
• Create a hearth over the wood to keep the rain from drowning it during early stages and you can use this technique to create a windblock; this also how I dry out the damp\wet wood
• Put wood, boughs or rocks down on the wet ground for a fire base otherwise the moisture will seep up into the fire and put it out.
• Birch bark is awesome with all the oil in it…this stuff will take a flame like nothing else….even damp.
• Cedar is also outstanding (bark and innards) crack it over large rocks or chop into it to get at the dry insides.
• Spanish moss (that green fluffy stuff hanging in the trees) is great tinder if it is dry.
• Start with tinder and small twigs and work up to larger branches\logs; you want to get a good coal base before loading on the big damp logs…else you’ll be starting over.
• When possible use the wind to your advantage so it can help fuel the fire with oxygen.
• Peel bark off smaller twigs to help get the fire going as it’ll often burn even when wet and dries very quickly.
• Use wood from a tree that has been zapped by lightening as dries fast and will often burn even damp
• Dig under the base of trees for dry stuff (pine needles, forest goo, etc)

WetDog
Sep 10, 2008

Here are a few tips I use up in the Cascades; some are repeats of others:
• Hand sanitizer works great to keep the flame going as does Vaseline + Cotton. Both of which live in my first aid kit with other fire starters and flint.
• Create a hearth over the wood to keep the rain from drowning it during early stages and you can use this technique to create a windblock; this also how I dry out the damp\wet wood
• Put wood, boughs or rocks down on the wet ground for a fire base otherwise the moisture will seep up into the fire and put it out.
• Birch bark is awesome with all the oil in it…this stuff will take a flame like nothing else….even damp.
• Cedar is also outstanding (bark and innards) crack it over large rocks or chop into it to get at the dry insides.
• Spanish moss (that green fluffy stuff hanging in the trees) is great tinder if it is dry.
• Start with tinder and small twigs and work up to larger branches\logs; you want to get a good coal base before loading on the big damp logs…else you’ll be starting over.
• When possible use the wind to your advantage so it can help fuel the fire with oxygen.
• Peel bark off smaller twigs to help get the fire going as it’ll often burn even when wet and dries very quickly.
• Use wood from a tree that has been zapped by lightening as dries fast and will often burn even damp
• Dig under the base of trees for dry stuff (pine needles, forest goo, etc)

WetDog
Sep 10, 2008

Here are a few tips I use up in the Cascades; some are repeats of others:
• Hand sanitizer works great to keep the flame going as does Vaseline + Cotton. Both of which live in my first aid kit with other fire starters and flint.
• Create a hearth over the wood to keep the rain from drowning it during early stages and you can use this technique to create a windblock; this also how I dry out the damp\wet wood
• Put wood, boughs or rocks down on the wet ground for a fire base otherwise the moisture will seep up into the fire and put it out.
• Birch bark is awesome with all the oil in it…this stuff will take a flame like nothing else….even damp.
• Cedar is also outstanding (bark and innards) crack it over large rocks or chop into it to get at the dry insides.
• Spanish moss (that green fluffy stuff hanging in the trees) is great tinder if it is dry.
• Start with tinder and small twigs and work up to larger branches\logs; you want to get a good coal base before loading on the big damp logs…else you’ll be starting over.
• When possible use the wind to your advantage so it can help fuel the fire with oxygen.
• Peel bark off smaller twigs to help get the fire going as it’ll often burn even when wet and dries very quickly.
• Use wood from a tree that has been zapped by lightening as dries fast and will often burn even damp
• Dig under the base of trees for dry stuff (pine needles, forest goo, etc)

Jay
Aug 17, 2008

Tim, if you got paid for writing that article, you should give the money back. I agree with Steve C, "To build a fire" hits the nail on the head, Practice, Practice, Practice, is always the best medicine,... BP- I still love you though:)

John Stevenson
Aug 08, 2008

Cool stuff. I frequent the woods often and I always carry alternative sources of fire making. Specifically, flint and steel set, strike anywhere matches, and a magnesium stick. All in various pockets. I also came up with the idea of scraping off an ample amount of the magnesium stick and keeping it in a water- proof match container. Just in case I have a cold weather emergency. Can you imagine being wet and shivering trying to scrape off enough magnesium to build a fire?

John
Aug 08, 2008

This article reminded me of this I already knew. Some of us forget from time to time, but lucky for us we have Backpacker.com.

Thanks for everything guys.
John, US Army Dog Handler, Fort Rucker, Al.

Jimmy
Aug 07, 2008

Criticism is fine, but how about offering alternatives. Anyone can critique but if you want results, offer up some of your own.

For instance, the cedar is incredibly dense, as such, on a rainy day, locating a cedar tree is a gold mine. Use the dry wood in the "heart" of the tree as tinder or even kindling. On dry days, the whispy bark of the cedar makes excellent tinder.

Ian
Jul 28, 2008

I agree with you guys. I have to admit that the only reason I continue to subscribe to Backpacker is for the pictures and gear reviews. Rarely do I actually learn anything new about backpacking/camping from it. For that you're better off reading Boys Life from the Boy Scouts ;)

Dennis
Jul 27, 2008

this site is getting old,same people, same advice,how about expanding beyond entry level?

Doug Melton
Jul 21, 2008

If this is all you have to offer. I can get more info almost any place. I dont need backpacker. You folks can do better and your readers deserve better. Give us a good piece on this subject. but everyone need to understand nothing beats practicing.

Dark
Jul 20, 2008

Are you serious? That does no one any good. Of course you need to find dry wood. And if im in a survival sitch, last thing im thinking about is leaving a burn ring...

Bob
Jul 19, 2008

I expected more information than a few short paragraphs. Pretty lame.

Anonymous
Jul 17, 2008

great info... for pre-schoolers

JAWZ
Jul 17, 2008

This topic has so much potential and was a real disappointment to realize it was relegated to about 3 short paragraphs and 3-4 sentences. The best comparison I can make is expecting to hear the winning Lottery numbers, only to get cut off after "The winning numbers are..."

Mac
Jul 17, 2008

10-4 that Allen Force. Your secrect is also mine. You can cram a ton of cotton balls into a film can. I've watched a single cotton ball burn for minutes using this method.

Cheers

Trail Runner
Jul 16, 2008

Nothing new in the article, but thanks Clay for the tip about cotton balls. That was worth reading.

Susan S.
Jul 15, 2008

Disappointing! No useful new info--everyone knows those things.

Clay M.
Jul 14, 2008

That's it?
A bit of a let down don't you think?
Cotton balls dipped in vaseline and stored in a film canister is the secret to my success...

Allen Force
Jul 14, 2008

Duh!

Sandmunky
Jul 13, 2008

This is a decent tip for the city boy, but this could have been broadened in many ways.

Always try to carry a small bottle of alcohol based hand sanitizer, it works wonders for starting a fire in damp weather, aside from its obvious uses.

There are many forms of flint strikers that are small and easily clipped to a belt loop or backpack. This little tool takes a bit of getting used to but once perfected it can be a life saver in any weather.

Im sure many of you can come up with quite a few more tips to add.

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